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D-Chowk: Pakistan’s Domestic Kargil



By Dr Mohammad Taqi

September 18, 2014

Pakistan is now into the second month of the twin Dharnas (sit-ins) by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Allama Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in and around the D-Chowk of the federal capital. These 30 plus days have shaken virtually nothing. The elected Prime Minister (PM), Mian Nawaz Sharif, though rattled initially, remains firmly at the helm. The Khan-Qadri duo blew a lot of hot air from atop their cargo containers but failed to deliver the goods that they had promised their minders. Even by the most generous estimates the crowds did not surpass more than 20,000 on the PTI/PAT’s best days. Those within the security establishment, who had egged on these two firebrands to bring down the democratic system, were clearly not prepared for the sit-ins turning out to be total duds. The Dharna debacle at D-Chowk is effectively the security establishment’s domestic Kargil: an ill-timed and ill-planned adventure gone terribly awry with no exit strategy in sight.

Like in the summer of 1999, when the Northern Light Infantry men and irregulars sneaked up the Kargil heights without giving much thought to the opponent’s range of retaliatory options, the container mounted Khan-Qadri double barrelled shotgun was discharged against the democratic setup without considering the contingency plans if the elected PM did not resign on their whim. However, blinded by their hate for democracy and Nawaz Sharif, one reason for which is his pledge to make public the inquiry into the Kargil fiasco, they decided to play roughshod. The establishment simply had not liked the results of the 2013 elections to begin with and was palpably uncomfortable with its nemesis, Mian Nawaz Sharif, securing a comfortable majority in both Punjab and at the Centre. Drumming up electoral rigging allegations 14 months after the fact was merely a ruse to destabilise him. The establishment has been blocking the PM every step of the way even before the December 2013 change of guard in Rawalpindi. Mr Sharif was not allowed to make key diplomatic appointments to the US, UK and India. His original nominee to lead the Pakistan High Commission in the UK, Mr Kamran Shafi, drew a particularly rancorous response from khaki quarters. Ultimately, the PM agreed to appointing career diplomats to all three positions.

PM Sharif’s peace initiative with India was torpedoed after the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi decided to meet the Kashmiri separatists just before the foreign secretary-level talks. Mr Nawaz Sharif opening a direct diplomatic channel to Afghan President Hamid Karzai through the Pashtun nationalist leader Mahmud Khan Achakzai further ruffled feathers in Rawalpindi, where they saw it as trespassing on its exclusive domain. The establishment wanted to put an end to the civilians slowly chipping away at its monopoly or even holding it at a standstill. The in-house change in the National Assembly was not viable numerically and the former president, Asif Zardari, had judiciously closed the door on the undemocratic dismissals of elected governments by divesting himself of those powers that his predecessors had repeatedly used on the security establishment’s instructions. The establishment became exponentially desperate.

The drama at D-Chowk is but a political equivalent of the Kargil infiltration. Just as the Kargil misadventure was the military’s desperate and reckless attempt to ostensibly break the status quo with India with utter disregard for the consequences, the Khan-Qadri assault on parliament has been designed to reverse the small gains the democratic dispensation has made vis-à-vis the praetorian guard since 2008. Months into his third stint, Mr Sharif was perceived by the establishment to be getting too big for his boots already. Rumours have been rife for the past five months that elements within the caverns of the security establishment were itching to show him the door. That these unabashed Bonapartists have, in connivance with a handful of politicians, set the current events in motion has been asserted repeatedly now by none other than the president of Imran Khan’s own party, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi.

The Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Asim Bajwa, has expressed his dismay at the army being mentioned as the “scriptwriter” of the farcical tragedy unfolding in Islamabad. He tried abysmally to dispel the impression that certain corps commanders had suggested imposing martial law, and said, “Everyone is allowed to discuss their opinions in a free and frank manner but the army chief’s decision is considered final and troops follow his lead.” General Bajwa’s failure to categorically state that neither the chief nor the generals even considered imposing martial law suggests, prima facie, that there indeed had been some discussion about mounting a coup d’état. This is an ominous sign and underscores the wayward institutional thought process that has produced four overt adventurists in the past. Why should there be any “free and frank” discussion about an insurrection at the highest military forum at such a critical political juncture? What justification did they have to even bring up the putsch as an option? Have they not learnt one bit from history?

General Bajwa went on to quote the army chief’s speech some months ago on how the “armed forces of Pakistan believe in the continuity of democracy and upholding of constitution and law. This is the only way the country can make its way into the ranks of developed countries.” On the face of it, the statement is reassuring, but scratches the surface and underneath is the same mindset that detests civilian supremacy in the affairs of the state. The military spokesman could not bring himself to state unequivocally that the armed forces will uphold the constitution and serve as and when commanded by an elected civilian government. The generic lip service to the constitution indicates prevaricating if not withholding an unqualified allegiance to the elected civilian government. The Irish journalist Claud Cockburn had aptly said, “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.” The mischief still seems afoot. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is reportedly being strong-armed into taking up General Pervez Musharraf’s trial as its cause, accommodate him as a leader and also join forces with the Khan-Qadri duo to salvage the political Kargil at D-Chowk from unravelling.

In her 2009 book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, the late and much lamented Benazir Bhutto wrote: “Sixty years after Pakistan’s creation, the case study of our nation’s record with democracy is a sad chronicle of steps forward and huge steps backward. But this too will change.” While one shares Benazir’s optimism, the establishment in all probability will make one last reckless effort, even as reckless as the ill-starred December 27, 2007, before beating a retreat from its domestic Kargil.